The National Hockey League has confirmed the squad sizes that each of the play-in and playoff teams are allowed. Goalies are unlimited but there is a cap of 28 roster spots for defenders and forwards on each team. This means that several minor league players and prospects will be joining each franchise to bulk out their post-season rosters. Ideally, for teams, the reserve players will not be required. But franchises will end up needing them when an injury occurs. Today, we are looking at the Dallas Stars Black Aces.
Who Could be the Dallas Stars Black Aces?
For the purpose of this article, a Black Ace is a player that the Stars will be including in their expanded Stanley Cup Playoff roster. A Black Ace wouldn’t regularly have been featured in the standard roster and therefore is most likely a minor/junior league call-up.
The term “Black Ace” was once used negatively. The term originated from Eddie Shore, who would refer to spare players as a “Black Ace.” Shore would say that a team would be in bad shape if they had to use one of their Black Aces in a game. However, recently, it has been used more positively. A team would use a Black Ace to help them overcome the loss of a player; or if they thought a different player could be utilized in a way to help the team win. Let’s look at the Stars aces in the hole.
Jason Robertson provides the most intrigue within the Stars taxi squad. An earmarked top-six winger in the making, he continues on an upward trajectory during his first professional season. The left shot, California-native topped the points table for a Texas Stars team that struggled immensely for consistency.
His 25 goals and 47 points ranked third and fourth respectively among rookies. In addition, he also muscled into the top 10 for goals scored and the top 20 for total points among all AHL skaters.
Robertson did receive a call-up late in the year to the Dallas Stars. But he recorded only four shots and one secondary assist in three games. However, his coaches in the AHL believe he has developed his all-round game this season. His defensive game has continued to improve in efficiency, which in turn, has provided more offensive opportunities with the puck on his stick.
With ‘excellent hand-eye coordination’ and a pure goal-scorers positioning, Robertson is an easy plug-in within the bottom-six. He could be essential if Dallas starts their playoff campaign struggling in the way they did before the season’s stoppage. They desperately need more secondary scoring.
Jason Robertson could turn out to be one of most vital of the Dallas Stars Black Aces.
The Finnish winger in his first year in North America, was the most recent minor leaguer to play in the NHL. And although Joel Kiviranta‘s stats haven’t set the world alight, his call up coincided with his most productive stretch of the AHL season (13 points in 15 games).
In Dallas, he scored just once in 11 outings, smartly following his slot snipe to rebound into a gaping cage on a three-on-two against the New Jersey Devils. Though, despite his limited offence, there were plenty of positives to take from his time at the elite level. He showcased his physicality effectively with 17 hits, (notably eight against the Colorado Avalanche) and three blocked shots. He also had a positive effect in the defensive end, according to HockeyViz, holding his own and matching the standards set by the Stars’ bottom-six.
While Robertson is probably a better call from an offensive standpoint, Kiviranta seems the better fit on the defensively-minded fourth line. One thing is for sure: these two are certainly the front runners for playoff game time.
Arguably the most exciting of the Dallas Stars Black Aces, Ty Dellandrea accelerated his offensive production with the Flint Firebirds this season. He rocketed from just over a point-per-game in 2018-19 to almost 1.5 per game this year. With 70 points in 47 games, he has justified his high position on Dallas’ prospect chart. The Stars’ 2018 first-round pick also took home gold with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in January. He scored a goal and an assist in three elimination games.
Dellandrea is an extremely skilful skater. If he were to join the Stars squad for playoff training camp, it would give the coaches a clear litmus test on how far along he is in his development. The concern at the start of the year, was his strength on the puck and how playing senior hockey may affect his ability to score. Returning to action with a playoff hungry, high-calibre squad may help to determine what league he will be starting in when he turns pro next season.
Joel L’Esperance has the most NHL experience of the taxi squad with 21 games over two seasons. He followed up his fantastic AHL rookie campaign with another offensively strong year. Topping the scorers’ chart on the Texas Stars with the aforementioned Robertson, L’Esperance will be hoping his tenacity and determination will give the coaches pause for thought.
His size and frame give him a big, physical presence at the net-front, which is a highly valued asset for playoff hockey. Not to mention his attention to detail on the backend, working hard in the defensive zone and sacrificing his body to make plays.
The only issue ailing him is the centre depth on the Stars, which gives them more flexibility at the position. If centre injuries occur, it is likely they plug the hole from within and juggle with taxi squad wingers.
Gavin Bayreuther played almost a quarter of the season on the Dallas Stars team last year. This was after the top-pair defenceman led the Texas Stars to the Calder Cup Final in 2018. However, he wasn’t selected for a call-up this season.
During his time in the NHL, Bayreuther proved he could perform at the highest level. He averaged 19 minutes of ice time and partnered Roman Polak, for the most part. Overall, he offered offensive zone upside in terms of puck retention and passing ability but was slightly more ordinary on the backend.
Thomas Harley is another first-round pick by the Stars, this time in 2019. The 6’-3”, Syracuse-native, defenceman is only 18-years-old and has been lighting up the OHL this season. In his first year as an alternate captain for the Mississauga Steelheads, he has gone at almost a point-per-game clip.
Harley has displayed the ability to grow into a top-pair, two-way defender. He walks well into the high slot on the power play. It has been a source of many of his tallies. Over 50 percent of his points have come on the power play during the last two OHL seasons.
Meanwhile, in defence, our prospect expert, Ben Kerr, remarks that Harley ‘keeps good gap control’ and ‘forces attackers into bad shooting positions.’ He is a few seasons away from the NHL, but the experience at playoff training camp is too good an opportunity for the high-flying prospect to miss out on.
Surprisingly, Jake Oettinger has usurped his more experienced AHL counterpart, Landon Bow in the goaltending hierarchy. While the latter was fancied at the beginning of the season due to encouraging NHL preseason performances, Oettinger has by far and away, outperformed him during his first year in the minors.
His .917 save percentage in 38 games for the Texas Stars saw him rank in the top 10 goaltenders in the AHL and first among rookies.
However, both taxi squad goaltenders may be back to square one come summer training camp. It is difficult to imagine either Oettinger or Bow will get a crack during the playoffs. They are competing against, arguably the best tandem in the NHL. Anton Khudobin has been the best backup in the league, perhaps even outshining Ben Bishop during the regular season. Bishop has seen a slight drop off from his Vezina-calibre season in 2018-19. However, he’s still been excellent for a built-from-the-back Dallas Stars outfit.
That being said, Oettinger had an excellent rookie year as a pro. If followed by a playoff training camp with Khudobin and Bishop, that will do wonders for his development.